Sermon: “Tough Love”
Lectionary Series A; Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany
Sunday, February 16, 2020
Gospel Reading: Matthew 5:21-37
Grace, mercy, and peace be to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
When I was a kid, our neighbors had a cottage on Gull Lake in Southwest Michigan that we enjoyed visiting. Michiganders call them cottages instead of cabins. Just FYI. At any rate, one of the things I can remember that we as kids liked to do was to take out the canoe on the lake and paddle around. But invariably, at some point, we would get a little out of control (I know that’s hard to fathom with boys). And when we would get out of control, we would rock the boat to the point that it would tip over. Then we would love to swim underneath the canoe where there was this pocket of air for us to go in as if we were in our very own submarine. Rocking the boat for us was a fun adventure.
Rocking the boat in day to day living is hardly ever fun. In the Sermon on the Mount, one might say that as Jesus preached, he rocked the proverbial boat. And that is what happens when anyone has some tough love that they desire to share with another person.
Tough love is saying what needs to be said while at the same time knowing that the one receiving the love may not like what they hear. There is a high risk of rejection and fallout, so rarely do we like to enter into situations where tough love is the topic of the day. We would much rather avoid such conversations in an effort not to rock the boat, in an effort to maintain the status quo, and keep the peace.
Jesus, as we know, from His own words did not come to keep the peace. He even said that He came to bring division. That division would come with the piercing and slicing reality of the truth of His Word. And whenever God’s Word of Law is spoken, there are those that receive it well, and there are certainly those that don’t.
Today’s text from Matthew, chapter five is chock-full of Law. But like I teach our catechumens, God speaks a word of law to us out of love. The Ten Commandments are all given in love. The summary of the first table of the Law (Commandments 1-3) is “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” The summary of the second table of the Law (Commandments 4-10) is “love your neighbor as yourself.” And the summary of all the Commandments, is one word: “Love.”
God loves us, and so He graciously gives us his commands because He doesn’t want us to separate ourselves from Him. He doesn’t want us to get hurt. He loves us.
Think of it this way, and perhaps you have heard me say this before. If a young child were about to touch a hot stove, what would you do? Would you just sit back and watch them get hurt and burn themselves? No! We would quickly tell them “No!” and perhaps grab their hand and push it away from the stove. In love, we tell them what to do to keep them safe and free from harm. The same is true with God. He loves us enough tell us what we need to hear even though we may not like to hear it. He loves us with some tough love.
Today’s text gets at some very tough love, and it will no doubt rock your proverbial boat as a sinner who will stand before the Almighty God.
Just listen to verses twenty-one through twenty-four, for example: You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:21-24).
Jesus speaks a word of tough love to those of us that bear grudges in our hearts. For any of us who hold hatred in our hearts toward another Christian or insults them, Jesus says that we will be liable to the fires of hell. A word of love doesn’t get tougher than that. So, Jesus directs us to seek reconciliation whether we are the ones who sinned or have been sinned against.
This is a very difficult lesson. No matter if we are the ones who have sinned or have been sinned against, what is true more often than not is that both parties have hardened their hearts. So, Jesus calls us to repentance of our hardness of heart and forgive the trespasses of others as we have had our trespasses forgiven.
But, if we rely upon our own tank to forgive, we will always run dry. We will never have enough forgiveness to share on our own. Which is why as we confess our own sins, Jesus gives us more than enough forgiveness to share. But notice that it is not our own forgiveness that we use to forgive others. It is His gift that is given to us and through us. (Pause)
Now take this next set of verses of tough love from Jesus: You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out, and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell (Matthew 5:27-30).
Jesus words literally cut to the heart today just as they did two thousand years ago. For that is what it all boils down to when it comes to sin: a matter of the heart. In the beatitudes, which is how Jesus began this sermon on the Mount, Jesus said, Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Matthew 5:8).
Unfortunately, our hearts are far from pure. We have hatred in our hearts, which we addressed a moment ago. And we have lust in our hearts. Jesus says, even if we look with lustful intent at someone else, we have committed adultery in our heart. Just by looking with lustful intent.
Now no one is going to like to hear the following, but these are statistics of lustful intent in our day and age here in the twenty-first century: The average age of a young boy’s first exposure to pornography is eleven years old. The average age for girls’ first exposure is thirteen. Children under the age of ten make up twenty-two percent of on-line pornography consumption. Thirty-five percent of what is looked up on-line is pornography. And statistics reveal that 40 million people in America regularly look at porn. That’s one in every eight people in our country. These are heart-breaking statistics.
No one likes to hear about this, just like I am sure that no one liked to hear Jesus talk about it two thousand years ago. We would much rather like to think there isn’t an issue like this in our world and act like it could never effect our congregation. But when 1 in 8 are impacted by this sin in our country, how can we not say it has entered into our world as well?
Such statistics call upon us first and foremost to repent if we are caught in any of the sins of adultery. And it also calls upon us to seek help to safeguard ourselves and our children against further assaults from the evil one.
No one ever thought that the invention of internet, along with things like the smart phone could become so dangerous. But that is the case nonetheless. The internet has become yet another avenue to attack us. Which is why we need to help ourselves and our kids to be safe-guarded from the assaults of the evil one. Be it filters that can be added to devices to accountability partners. We all need help when it comes to facing Satan.
That help ultimately comes in our Savior who saw us in our sin and rocked the boats of our lives by speaking some words of tough love that we needed to hear. And we didn’t even get to everything in our text for today. Jesus goes on to speak on his desire for marriage and his desire for us to speak the truth, but there just isn’t time for us to get to all of what Jesus said in our text for today.
The thing is, that even though hearing the Law may rock our boat, remember that Jesus says it all because He is lovingly leading us to repentance. That is, after all, the reason for the law…to show our sins and our need for a Savior. Jesus is our Savior, and He loves us enough to say what needs to be said and to love us with some tough love. (Pause)
Think about that child by the stove again. Because that is how God showed His love for us. Seeing us in our sin, doomed to die eternally, God didn’t sit back and watch us get burned. He said, “No!” And with His Son, He reached down from heaven in the person of His Son.
But when His Son hung upon the cross, He did sit back and let Him take the heat of hell in our place. In the toughest love ever, the Father sat back and watched His one and only Son get burned by the fires of hell as He endured the wrath and separation of God because of our sins of hatred, lust, and on and on the list goes. In love for us our God experienced hell on earth as He hung there to die our death. None of us can begin to fathom just how tough that must have been for the Father to sit back and watch His child suffer and die. But that is what it took…that is what it took to save us from sin and death.
For God so loved the world that He gave. How can we not marvel at the sacrifice that the Father made? Parents, can you imagine giving your child over to death to save another? Kids, can you imagine your parents giving you over to death to save another? No. We can’t. But He can, and He did.
And because He did, your sins and mine are forgiven. That is why we come here. Our hearts are not pure. We are filled with hate and lust, but the Father of all compassion sent His Son to create in us clean hearts. And thanks to Jesus, that is what we have been given.
In the forgiveness of our sins, and in the Lord’s Supper, Jesus gives us His perfect self. He removes all sin. He forgives us our trespasses, and in turn we can forgive the trespasses of others. No matter our sinful situation that we find ourselves in, we always have hope with our God. For we have a God who with the toughest love ever, gave His Son to save us. And for sinners in need of a Savior, that’s all we need. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
The peace of God which surpasses all human understanding guard and keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.